The following is based on an article published by the International Association of Defense Counsel Technology Committee in its 2008 newsletter series and co-written with Bob Manlowe, Esq. and Jenny Guidi. For full text of the article please contact Mr. Bloomberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes the size of the case or, in these uncertain economic times, your budget dictates that you go it alone in the courtroom without the assistance of a professional hot seat operator (e.g., ordering and setting up the equipment, calling up documents, playing deposition excerpts or just putting a document on a document projector). When faced with going to trial on your own or with just the aid of your paralegal/assistant, there are a few lessons that can help you anticipate the unexpected while maintaining your poise and credibility in front of the jury.
Create a Master Plan.
Now more than ever, technology is advancing at a break-neck speed – with or without you – and the same applies specifically to courtroom technology. Jurors’ attention spans are limited as they have been conditioned by advertisers to receive core bits of information in 18 seconds or less. Fortunately, with the aid of courtroom technology, attorneys are better prepared to meet jurors where they are – lack of attention spans and absence of retention included. With this in mind, to effectively navigate a plan that maximizes the power of courtroom technology, we strongly recommend counsel create a master plan several weeks before trial.
First, consider what methods will best present your case and its evidence, keeping in mind limits the courtroom may have in the way of equipment and available space as well as your presentation style. In some cases, cost can be a determining factor in the types of technology you are able to utilize. Should you have to rent or purchase equipment, consider defraying the cost by determining whether or not opposing counsel might be willing to share both the use of the equipment and the expense. In some instances, it may be wise to offer opposing counsel access to your equipment regardless of their contribution to its cost. We have found it helpful to be in control of the equipment for two main reasons: 1) we know the equipment will always be available to us when we need it; and 2) we project a positive image to the jury when we “share” our equipment with the opposing side.
During pre-trial motions, discuss with the judge and opposing counsel an optimum equipment layout that will maximize its impact on the jury. Take note of the courtroom’s acoustics – will you need a microphone and speakers to amplify your speech and/or your equipment’s sound? What about when the air conditioner turns on? Also pay attention to how light or dark it is in the courtroom. If there are windows, be sure to have a projector with adequate lumens (brightness) so the picture is viewable by the jury with the lights on/blinds open. Once you have devised a master plan, obtain the necessary approval from the court for bringing the equipment into the courthouse
We suggest developing your “wish list” for the courtroom technology features needed at trial (e.g., screen, computer, document projector, cords to connect your computer to the LCD projector, flip chart, DVD player, monitors on attorney tables, etc.).
When creating this list, be careful to account for the basic necessities, those essential things that are easily forgotten or overlooked, such as extension cords for electrical equipment and extra light bulbs for projectors. In the same vein, it is important to consider the courtroom’s limitations with regard to electrical wattage, availability and location of electrical outlets and even security for your equipment if it becomes necessary to store it there overnight. We suggest planning a walkthrough of the courtroom to develop a floor plan documenting where the electrical outlets are and where the equipment will be placed to maximize the visibility for the jury while, at the same time, minimizing any inconvenience to the court by having extra long cords unnecessarily laying about, screens blocking doors or walkways, etc.
However, when considering the use of your own equipment over that of the in-house technology available to you, an important lesson, as you are probably aware, is to tread lightly. The judge presiding over your case may have gone to great lengths to lobby for such technology in their courtroom and sometimes you will have to create your master plan to work around the courtroom’s existing audio/visual setup.
While new technical methods may seem attractive, be honest with yourself about the amount of time and energy you or your paralegal will be able to contribute toward learning new equipment or software in preparation for trial. With these considerations in mind, think practically about the amount of time you will have each day to set up the equipment you want to use and if necessary, make cuts to your wish list.
Practice Makes Perfect.
In order to present your case with the utmost confidence, practice your presentation using the equipment you plan to have at trial, calling up specific exhibits and familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of the software and hardware. If you will be using a projector, carefully learn its menu system to adjust focus, zoom, brightness, etc. Be conscious of whether or not the technology in use is keeping up with you. If it is slowing you down, you will lose jurors easily.
Before trial, notify your firm’s IT staff or consultants that you will be in trial and may require assistance over the phone. Then be sure to program the IT support’s phone number into your mobile phone, adding it to your speed dial.
Anticipate Items Easily Overlooked.
Should you plan to use a laptop to organize and display trial exhibits onsite, ensure that it is trial-ready by removing excess software, turning off all extra sounds, disabling the screen saver and optimizing power options so that the system will not “go to sleep” unexpectedly. Also configure the laptop settings to “do nothing” mode when you close the computer lid, otherwise the system may shut down automatically.
Creating a back-up plan in the event your technology fails is a must. Redundancy in the forms of back-up discs, hard copies of electronic documents and foam core visuals for your top three exhibits are just a few of the many ways to cover yourself in the event of a technical malfunction. One of the key complaints jurors voice about the courtroom (as learned from our exit interviews with actual trial jurors) is the sheer volume and length of the delays that ultimately keep them at the courthouse longer, which in turn results in their being away from their jobs and families longer.
An attorney who eliminates those delays becomes a hero with the jury. With that said, there is nothing more impressive to the jury, and to the court, when an attorney is ready with Plan B without skipping a beat. This type of pre-planning not only adds to the jury’s impression of your preparedness, but also to your overall credibility as an advocator.
Unlocking the full potential of courtroom technology requires pre-planning, flexibility and redundancy. An attorney who anticipates and plans for the expected and unexpected increases his/her persuasiveness with the members of the jury.
By: Adam Bloomberg, Managing Director of Visual Communications